Arsenic (symbol As) is a silver-gray, extremely poisonous, semi-metallic element. Arsenic, which is odorless and flavorless, has been known since ancient times, but it wasn't until the Middle Ages that its poisonous characteristics first became known. Metallic arsenic was first produced in the 17th century by heating arsenic with potash and soap. Arsenic is rarely found in nature in its elemental form and is generally recovered as a by-product of ore processing. Recently, small doses of arsenic have been found to put some forms of cancer into remission. It can also help thin blood. Homoeopathists have successfully used undetectable amounts of arsenic to cure stomach cramps.
The U.S. does not produce any arsenic and instead imports all its consumption needs for arsenic metals and compounds. More than 95 percent of the arsenic consumed in the U.S. is in compound form, mostly as arsenic trioxide, which in turn is converted into arsenic acid. Production of chromated copper arsenate, a wood preservative, accounts for about 90% of the domestic consumption of arsenic trioxide. Three companies in the U.S. manufacture chromate copper arsenate. Another company used arsenic acid to produce an arsenical herbicide. Arsenic metal is used to produce nonferrous alloys, primarily for lead-acid batteries.
One area where there is increased consumption of arsenic is in the semiconductor industry. Very high-purity arsenic is used in the production of gallium arsenide. High speed and high frequency integrated circuits that use gallium arsenide have better signal reception and lower power consumption. An estimated 30 metric tons per year of high-purity arsenic is used in the production of semiconductor materials.
Since roughly 75% of U.S. arsenic production used to be used for wood preservative treatments, the demand for arsenic was closely tied to new home construction, home renovation, and deck construction. However, future demand for arsenic is questionable given its toxicity and the possibility of tighter environmental regulations in the future. In fact, in 2005 the percent of arsenic used for wood preservative treatments was down to 65%.
Supply -World production of white arsenic (arsenic trioxide) in 2006 rose by +0.4% to 52,700 metric tons from last year's level of 52,500 metric tons. The world's largest producer is China with about 57% of world production, followed by Chile with 22% of world production, Peru with 7%, Mexico with 3%, and Russia with 3%. China's production of arsenic was fairly constant at about 40,000 metric tons per year but that has dropped to about 30,000 in the last three years. The U.S. supply of arsenic in 2006 rose by 13.8% to 10,400 metric tons, up further from 2004's 30-year low of 7,022 metric tons.
Demand - U.S. demand for arsenic in 2006 fell by 16.8% to 7,340 metric tons. Of that demand, about 65% was for wood preservatives, 10% was for non-ferrous alloys and electric usage, 10% was for agricultural use, 10% was for glass, and 5% was for other uses.
Trade - U.S. imports of trioxide arsenic in 2006 rose by +12.7% to 12,400 metric tons from 11,000 metric tons in 2005. U.S. exports of trioxide arsenic fell 6.5% to 3,060 metric tons, down from the record high of 3,273 metric tons in 2005.